Ford may shake up sales unit

Ford may shake up sales unit
Top marketing exec likely to be replaced as automaker misses its first
quarter targets.
Three months into a new year, Ford Motor Co. is still struggling to hit lowered sales targets, meaning a shake up of its sales and marketing operations may not be far off.
The automaker's top North American sales executive, Cisco Codina, is rumored to be in jeopardy, sources familiar with the situation tell me, but CEO Alan Mulally told lieutenants as recently as Tuesday evening on the sidelines of the New York auto show that he's "not considering" personnel moves "at this time."
Which means Mulally supports Codina and Americas President Mark Fields, the two most directly responsible for Ford hitting U.S. sales targets, until he doesn't. He told an associate that Codina and Fields need to put a "full-court press" on increasing showroom traffic and "polishing" the Blue Oval.
Those are top priorities for Mulally this spring, signaling the increasing intensity surrounding the ability of Fields, Codina & Co. to hit the sales and market share targets that are a cornerstone of Mulally's recovery plan for Ford. They have time, but not much.
Fresh from his tour as a moonlighting salesman inside Ford dealers in Dearborn and Woodland Hills, Calif., Mulally's focus on North American sales and marketing comes as Ford is searching for a chief marketing officer, undertaking a strategic assessment of its cars, trucks and SUVs, their competitiveness and how they are marketed, and parrying criticism from dealers.
'We don't have a lot of time'
"Bottom line is dealer sales and dealer profitability have got to improve," says Kevin Collins, president of Bill Collins Ford in Louisville, Ky., and chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council. "Our issues are critical and we don't have a lot of time to wait."
They aren't the only ones. Mulally is a devout believer in setting a business plan, reviewing it weekly and hitting the targets -- or else. Ford missed its U.S. sales and market share targets in January and February and, according to sources familiar with the targets, barely hit those for March.
Bottom line: They missed the quarter, but haven't given up on "making the year," crucial if Fields and his sales team hope to extend their tenure into next year. That's why there's intensifying urgency to make changes in sales and marketing before too much of the year has passed.
Ford officials won't comment on "speculation" over the leadership of sales and marketing, which they credit with "stabilizing" Ford. There have been high-level discussions about reassigning Codina and replacing him with Darryl Hazel, president of Ford customer service, among others.
But Mulally, in his job for less than six months, is showing a preference for letting results drive change. By publicly declaring that Fields and Codina need to drive showroom traffic and "polish the Oval," he is ratcheting up the public expectation they must meet -- or else.
Sell products, not the deal
The silver lining in Ford's tough sales performance, detailed in a hyper-ventilated March sales report, is that its newest cars and crossovers are holding their own against well-established rivals.
You'd have thought Ford, Lincoln and Mercury blew the proverbial doors off their showrooms across America, belying anxiety felt by dealers who want Ford to focus its marketing more on its products and their value -- not necessarily the deal of the month.
Ford's midsize Fusion, Milan and MKZ "set monthly sales records" in March, the release blared. F-Series pickup sales reached their "highest monthly sales since August." The Edge and MKZ crossovers, in the market for a grand total of four months, "are achieving sales levels comparable to long-established products."
That's the good news for a company whose marketing plans and sales goals seem to change with alarming frequency and deliver middling results.
The bad news is that the sales for Ford's bellwether Ford Division are down 15.2 percent through the first quarter of this year. Mercury sales are off 7.9 percent. Lincoln, buoyed by the new crossover, is up 8.1 percent -- evidence that enlivening its lackluster product line can't come soon enough.
If the data "sets you free," as Mulally likes to say, more quarters like that will set a few executives free, too.
-- "I have tried to live my life so that my family would love me and my friends respect me. The others can do whatever the hell they please." John Wayne
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